Thursday, October 1, 2009

POP Montreal – September 30

Leif Vollebekk
Adorning the Wednesday night volunteer wristband, I entered a somewhat emtpy-feeling O Patro Vys to see Leif Vollebekk for the first time. Evoking many of the same musical qualities as fellow Montreal folk-pop phenom (and collaborator) Charlotte Cornfield, Leif is also reknowned for his truly kickass name, and was accompanied by the ever-smiling Hans Bernhard on upright bass and "feelin'-it" Phil Melanson on percussion.

Throughout the set, pulled mostly from his album Inland, Leif grew more confident both with his brand of earnest bluesy folk, and his banter. As the room filled up, he uttered, "Oh look at all you, thanks for multiplying," and the ever-expanding crowd seemed grateful to hear it. Many of Leif's songs were on the importance of place – "Quebec," "Don't go to Klaksvil," "Cairo Blues," the list goes on – and Hans's plugging bass only added to the feeling of motion, whether it be via a river, road, or delectably looped electric guitar and violin on Leif's next-to-closing track. Looking forward to more Vollebekk around the corner.

Oxen Talk
The soundperson just had to play Grizzly Bear before Oxen Talk took the stage, didn't they? For a difficult-to-classify band, identifying them with a currently popular and mildly similar multi-vocal-and-instrumentalist indie chamber pop outfit would just be too easy. That's not to say Oxen Talk are without Bear-esque undertones – they are – but without the same atmospherics, the comparison lacks depth.

The two are similar in the sense that the combination of McGillans Bob, Luke, Adrian, Riley and Mallory makes for one dextromentalist (to borrow a friend's terminology) and highly talented group, though their focus is more on intricate wordplay set upon a more bare bones yet complex musical backdrop with shift-on-a-dime tempos. Oxen Talk's sense of humour was also on display, for instance with a grossly awkward but enjoyable finale to one number: as the lights faded, their wry smiles intensified, waiting for the last possible moment to release control over the keys...and we laughed. Heh.

The Youjsh
Cycling up St Laurent to Il Motore, I was pleased to catch a significant portion of The Youjsh's torrent of tight, mathy hyper-Klezmer. Think Battles, but replace the guitars and robot rock with mostly one-handed keys, trumpet, and woodwinds bent into entirely new contortions.

Though band leader and Steve Day admirer Malcolm Sailor told me after the show that while he too resorts to describing it as Klezmer, he said the band's sound draws heavily from Eastern European music in general – the most familiar of which being accordion-based Bar Mitzvah jams. "I'd rather refrain from categorizing my music, and let it speak for itself," Sailor said. And I recommend you listen.

Bruce Peninsula
Up next came Bruce Peninsula's mix of weighty growls and soothing choiristas; throbbing, bass-heavy romps bookended by softening a cappella. The band's neo-traditional sing-a-alongs best transcended through an extended version of "Satisfied" and a rollicking "Jack Can I Ride?", the final track on their eponymous 7-inch.

After the show, band co-founder, guitarist and vocalist Matt Cully explained that much of the inspiration for the band's unique approach to hard-hitting folk rock came from the archives of Alan Lomax, a musicologist whose field recordings preserved the music of artists like Lead Belly and Muddy Waters just as industrialization threatened to wipe out folk culture completely. I'm grateful we have this Toronto lot breathing new life into old hymns.

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